Today's post continues the story of the Comet Escape Line, the network established during World War II to escort downed Allied Airmen safely out of Europe and back into the fight. If you missed the earlier posts and would like to read them, just click on these links: March, April, May, June, July, August, September.
|Views along the Comet Escape Line in the Pyrenees. Courtesy of Pyrenean Experience.|
September's post introduced Michou Dumont, codename "Lily," a leader in the Comet Escape Line in Brussels. After fleeing Belgium when the Gestapo was closing in on her, Lily went to Bayonne in the far south of France and met with Jean-Francois, the leader of the Comet Line. She warned him of serious problems with the network in Brussels. Jean-Francois, codename "Franco," travelled to Brussels to check out the situation and upon his return to Paris walked into a trap set by the Gestapo. Meanwhile, Lily awaited word from Franco at Auntie Go's house in Anglet, near Bayonne.
|Border between Spain and France|
Several weeks later, Michael Creswell, the British attaché in Spain who took charge of the rescued airmen after they crossed the border, called Auntie Go, Lily, and Max, another operative, down to Madrid for a planning session. Lily was assigned to work with Max in Paris and also to work the line from Dax (north of Bayonne) to the Spanish border. Max would continue bringing airmen by train from Paris to Dax.
After crossing the Pyrenees for additional meetings with Creswell in February, Lily returned to Paris. She was to coordinate escapes in Paris along with Martine Noel, a dentist. Lily stored her belongings in Martine's apartment. Lily wanted to speed up the escape procedures, so Martine set up a strategy session at a local restaurant for the new team of helpers.
|Michou Dumont, "Lily"|
The fellow who sat directly in front of Lily seemed vaguely familiar. "He was short and sandy-haired, with close-set eyes, strange and intense. He wore a garish purple coat along with a polka-dot tie. Abbé Beauvais, a priest who gave sanctuary to pilots when they came to Paris," introduced the young Belgian as Pierre Boulain. Lily didn't recognize the name, but she didn't like the man. His polka-dot tie bothered her - it could be a signal.
The next day Lily left Paris with two British agents in danger of capture. They crossed the Pyrenees safely, and Lily returned to Auntie Go's in Anglet. Because of the increased Allied bombings, main rail lines were damaged, and Lily arrived in Paris many days later than expected. When she called Martine's apartment, a strange woman answered the phone and called Lily by her real name, Micheline, which Lily had not used in almost a year. No one in Paris knew her real name, or so she thought. The woman encouraged her to come by Martine's apartment, but Lily knew better.
Lily headed to Martine's dental office in the suburbs, but the concierge stopped her at the door. After informing her that Martine had been arrested, the concierge sent Lily to one of Martine's friends. She learned that everyone at the restaurant had been arrested and sent to Fresnes Prison just outside the city of Paris. Fearing her own capture, Lily caught a train for Bayonne. She considered her options and decided to find out who was betraying the Comet Line to the enemy.
Lily returned to Paris and went straight to Fresnes Prison. At the prison gate, she asked to visit Martine and was promptly arrested. Although she was confined to a room by herself, Lily figured out the communication system used by the prisoners. They communicated at the sides of the walls and around corners using taps, echoes, and shouts. The jail was built in a classic hub-and-spoke design," so the inmates tracked down Martine and brought her close to Lily's room. Martine revealed that the traitor was Pierre Boulain. Lily finally remembered where she had seen the man before - in Brussels when he went by the name of Jean Masson.
Masson had obtained false identification papers for airmen traveling from Brussels to Paris and specialized in border crossings. He had attended a meeting at a safe house in Brussels two days before the Comet leader Monsieur de Jongh was arrested in Paris. "Up to now, Masson had protected his identity because all those who knew him were always arrested. Lily was the only one capable of breaking his cover."
After spending two nights at the Fresnes prison, Lily was led to the prison warden. The birthdate on her French identification card indicated she was only seventeen, and he couldn't accept the imprisonment of someone so young. The warden ordered Lily out of the prison immediately and told her the Gestapo was on the way. Lily left through the front gate. Shortly after, a German staff car passed her on the road, but the Gestapo officers inside didn't even notice her.
Return on November 1st for the final installment of the Comet Escape Line adventures. Learn what happened to Lily, Jean Masson, and the imprisoned leaders of the Comet Line.